Looking for Carving Advice

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Forum topic by Zuki posted 08-06-2008 12:57 AM 1131 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Zuki's profile


1404 posts in 4315 days

08-06-2008 12:57 AM

Topic tags/keywords: carving zuki

Lately I have been drawn to carving. To me there is something really special about being able to take a hunk of wook and release its inner beauty. The problem . . . I don’t know where to start.

I know that there are quite a few carvers on the site so I am looking for your advice.

1) I do not want to lay down a whole pile of $$ to realize I’m only good at making toothpicks, so what tools would I need to start out. I have a pretty good set of chisels and a dremel with a mess of bits.

2) What sort (type) of wood would be best for carving?

3) Any recommendations on what to start carving? I sort of like the idea of flowers, but would that be to ambitions as a start.

Any other advice would be greatly appreciated.

-- BLOG -

6 replies so far

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4035 posts in 4302 days

#1 posted 08-06-2008 05:14 AM

I’m partial to Flexcut tools. There is a 5 piece starter set that has an interchangeable handle for 45.99 USD at The upside to this is that one can acquire a brass adapter that let’s one use these with any of a number of reciprocating power carvers (including a shaft kit that fits Dremel motors for $44.99).

I’m sure there are cheaper sets, but I am of the cry once school of tool buying. These tools are sharp out of the box and are easily stropped to stay sharp.

Lee Valley offers a set of Warren tools with an interchangeable handle for around 50 USD (Sorry, Zuki – I don’t have the Canadian dollar equivalents at hand but they will on the website). These are strong in the whittling type knives, but they have various gouges that can be purchased that will fit the starter set handles.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4552 days

#2 posted 08-06-2008 05:34 AM

To start out just keep it simple. Most of my carving is done with one chisel and a razor knife. Carve something you like, but keep it simple. Celtic knots are always cool. I love doing birds and trees. Try something easy to carve like poplar or bass wood.

View Harold's profile


310 posts in 4085 days

#3 posted 08-06-2008 06:32 AM

Douglas is right about the flexcut tools…very sharp and if you go with a wood like Dennis mentioned you’ll be off and running. I stumbled through a couple blogs that may offer a few ideas… as far as what to carve…a flower is perfect, simply because is can not be wrong. in regards to wood I like those that have the most character…I lean to the hardwoods… tool wise if your leaning towards flowers, then an 1/8” viener, a 1/2” gouge and 1/2” parting tool… the parting tool is a little big, but I use this tool to lay in the flower with a mallet..if possible I would also get one of the 5 piece sets Douglas mentioned for the detail work…..I don’t recall where I saw it but one of the larger woodworking tool retailers had individual chisels in their close out section…. many were in the low $20’s….. Henry Taylor’s or something similar….good luck!

-- If knowledge is not shared, it is forgotten.

View snowdog's profile


1166 posts in 4221 days

#4 posted 08-06-2008 01:33 PM

I am not much of a carver but I sur eenjoy the few peices I have managed to work through.

When I started playing with carving most of what I read said I should start with Basswood. It is softer and easier to carve than many other woods. It is also not expensive.

Keeping your tools sharp is important. It took me some time to get that skill up to speed. It is funny, now that I have some small skill at sharpening I don’t understand why it was so hard for me to learn it in the first please <laugh> it seems so simple now. Hold a consistent angle and use a strop, whats the big deal.. It was a big deal to me for months.

As far as tools, (gain from what I have read and tried) what feels good in your hand is the tool tha tyou will use. $$ does not matter much. Yes the more you spend the longer yoru tool may hold an edge but the less you spend the more practice you will get on you sharpening skills :). My friends and family bought me a ton of expensie carving tools. I usually only use 2 (sometimes 3) of the same knives. Don’t waste $$ on buying a lot. Like most projects I use what I have and it seems to always work out. A “V” “U” and straight knife is all I seem to need. And I usual use the small ones.

But remember in all my comments I am only a novice at this carving thing.

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 4131 days

#5 posted 08-06-2008 02:04 PM

a couple of carving knives and/or maybe a Dremel

tupelo is my favorite for carving. I havent touched a piece of basswod since picking up and working on tupelo

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2821 posts in 3828 days

#6 posted 08-07-2008 04:10 AM

Depends on what type of carving you are looking forward to trying. There are several types. Chip carving, relief carving, chain saw carving, character carving, etc. Chip carving is probably the simplest, but can be the most strenuous and time consuming because each little cut takes muscle and patience. It’s the cheapest way to carve too, you only need a few knifes. But you have to be a little meticulous. Unlike the other types of carving. In relief carving you can use a mallet for a majority of the work, and actually all the other carving can be done this way too. That way you can take a majority of the wood out quickly. But with the other carving you need a lot more tools too. I bought Two cherries carving sets. I bought the set of 6 and then the set of 12. They are pricy but are nice. Flex cut tools are nice because you can buy a master carver and use the blades on it’s recipricating hand piece. If you choose to use a power carver instead of sweat and tears. Personally I love the quiet of the chisel, and the way the blade cuts the wood as I push it. I don’t want to hear some stupid carver. And the hand pieces get really hot at times.
Aside from all that, I would assume that relief carving is a good place to start if you want to learn how to use the various chisels. The truth is, and it even says it in magazines like fine woodworking, that as a carver you will pick “choice tools” that you like to use, and all the others will stay in the tool roll. This is more then true. In fact I use a 1/4” straight chisel more then I use any of the gouges I purchased.
As far as wood goes, there’s the famous basswood (mostly used for character carving). This wood has no grain pattern to screw you up. Mahogany is excellant to carve as well. In all reality it depends on what you are trying to achieve. Are you going to paint it or stain it. Or maybe a clear finish. Is it going to be on a project like a box or cabinet? Then you need to use the same material for it as you do the rest of the project. Remember too, your carving is only going to be as good as your tools. You need to keep them honed. So you need to buy some waterstones (I prefer these but you can get oil stones) a leather strop, and some honing compound. Sharpening is a whole other animal you will need to learn if you want to be a good wood carver. The importance of it is as important as the tools you purchase. Are you better off buying a cheap set to start, but with many tools? Or are you better off buying less tools with better steel that can be sharpened and honed better, and that keep an edge longer? I prefer the latter. Anyhow, theres not much anyone can teach you. You need to have visual perception. How deep should you make a cut? etc. Lora S. Irish’s Wildlife in Relief is a good book if you want to try your hand at relief carving. Or any carving for that matter. She explains quite a bit in it. About the wood, I’ve carved Maple with good luck, basswood, mahogany, walnut, cherry, birch, alder, bubinga, and red oak. The red oak is obviously the hardest because of it’s grain. It chips out. But I did it because my chisels were sharp.
I wish you luck. It is an excellent hobby.

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

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